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Behold, the power of Creative Commons! (photoshop by author, combining Jean-Etienne Liotard’s “François Tronchin” (1757) with a Peruvian “Shell with Inlaid Feline” (100 BCE–700 CE), all images courtesy Cleveland Museum of Art)

Brace yourself for some meme-worthy Egyptian cats and gif-able Renaissance babies, the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) recently announced unrestricted digital access for nearly half its collection of artworks.

Making good on its mission to “create transformative experiences through art, for the benefit of all the people forever,” CMA has opened its digital archives to the public through a partnership with Creative Commons Zero (CC0), a global nonprofit dedicated to the free distribution of otherwise copyrighted images.

30,000 artwork images — nearly half of the museum’s entire collection — are now available for digital users to remix, research, merchandise, print, and explore. Better yet, released metadata for more than 61,000 works will allow scholars to more easily investigate conduct research into provenance and object histories. You can search the Cleveland institution’s collection here.

Vincent van Gogh, “The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy)” (1889), oil on fabric

“If we are committed to transparency, to fostering creativity, to engaging communities within and far beyond our region,” wrote the CMA’s director and president William Griswold in a Medium post announcing the initiative, “then there is almost nothing we can do that would have greater impact.”

The museum has also changed its policies to encourage visitors to capture their own still and moving images of their public-domain artworks during their visits.

The CMA has also made access to collection images and data available through a public application programming interface (API) and a GitHub repository.

Previously, Hyperallergic has reported on a growing number of museums and archives that have opened their collections to public access. The list includes the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Newberry Library, the Walters Art Museum, and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum.

Claude Monet, “The Red Kerchief” (ca. 1868-1873), oil on fabric

Francisco de Zurbarán, “Christ and the Virgin in the House at Nazareth” (c. 1640), oil on canvas

“Funerary Portrait of a Young Girl” (c. 25-37), encaustic on wood

“Temple Relief of a Deity”
(360-246 BCE), limestone

“The Three Sacred Shrines at Kumano: Kumano Mandala” (c. 1300), Hanging scroll, ink and color on silk

Jacques-Louis David, “Cupid and Psyche” (1817), oil on canvas

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Zachary Small

Zachary Small was the senior writer at Hyperallergic and has written for The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Nation, The Times Literary Supplement, Artforum, and other publications. They have also appeared on WNYC. They tweet and instagram...

5 replies on “The Cleveland Museum of Art Digitized 30,000 Artworks in the Public Domain”

  1. Bit of a misleading headline, don’t you think? All those images were already in the public domain. It’s access to the hi-res digital files and metadata they’ve graced us with.

    1. Hi Kathryn, thank you for bringing this to our attention! We’ve tweaked the headline to read: “The Cleveland Museum of Art Digitized 30,000 Artworks in the Public Domain” to avoid confusion.

  2. Thanks Hyperallergic and CMA!

    The Getty set the standard for sharing artwork with the public. Getty inspired me to do the same with my own archive.

    In the past museums that banned photography must have thought that a photo of their artwork will be confused with the original. Or if someone sees a copy of the artwork, they wont bother to make a visit to the museum. Glad to see this ‘sharing’ trend catching on somewhat with other institutions.

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